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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  June 19, 2011 10:00am-10:30am PDT

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coming up, teaching military personnel to accept homosexuals after the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." also, creating a buddhist park with hundreds of buddhist sta statues on sacred montana indian land and guess what? the indians don't mind. >> and the jewish holiday of shavuot, celebrating the harvest and the torah, and proclaiming -- >> that you shld be really, really, really happy. major funding for "religion & ethics newsweekly" is provided
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by the lily endowment, an indianapolis-based private family foundation dedicated to its founders' interest in religion, community development, and education. additional funding by mutual of america, designed and customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company and the corporation for public broadcasting. >> welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. secretary of defense robert gates told the associated press this week that if the top military officer recommends an end to the don't ask, don't tell policy relating to homosexuals he will okay the new rules before he retires the end of june. gates also said he sees no barrier to that happening. since congress repealed don't ask, don't tell last december, more than a million u.s. troops have taken instruction in the new policy. gates says that training has gone well. still, there are concerns, especially among some military chaplains. betty rollin reports.
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>> lance corporal a, he's gay. lance corporal b and lance corporal c are his roommates. they know he's gay, or they think he's gay, but due to the fact that he dresses in a certain way they request to move out of their room. do they have that right? >> reporter: here at the quantico marine corps base in virginia, as well as at other military bases, they've been holding voluntary training sessions on the repeal of don't what does it mean? what changes? what doesn't change? >> you are not expected to change your personal, religious, or moral beliefs, however, you are expected to treat all others with dignity and respect consistent with the core values that already exist within the marine corps. >> reporter: the marines in this group didn't seem to have any trouble with these instructions. >> the most important thing we are still marines in the end. we sign a contract, and we are still going to follow orders. we are still going to wear the same uniform.
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so when we go into combat it's not going to matter if a marine is straight or gay. >> i'm a baptist, but the role that my religion plays is not really important because i have to adhere to the rules and regulations that are governed over me. >> reporter: a pentagon study released last fall showed that a majority of u.s. forces, 70%, said that serving with gays or lesbians would have no negative effect on them. but there was a very different response from forces fighting in iraq and afghanistan. 58% of combat marines said they would prefer not to serve with gays. another group that has voiced concerns about the repeal are chaplains. of the 3,000 active-duty chaplains, a majority are conservative christians. brigadier general douglas lee has served over 31 years as both a reserve and active duty chaplain and now heads the joint commission that represents
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presbyterian reformed chaplains. he is one of 66 retired chaplains who wrote a letter to president obama and secretary of defense gates urging them not to repeal don't ask don't tell. >> homosexuality is one of a multitude of sins. chaplains essentially help people wrestle with the sins that beset them in their lives and try and give them encourage and hope and a way out of all that, and for the christian the way out is jesus christ. for another religion it might be some other means. the problem with this repeal is that this particular sin is being legitimized as being normal and okay. >> reporter: whereas some chaplains support the repeal, and all chaplains accept their obligation to minister to everyone, chaplain lee fears the conflict conservative christian chaplains are bound to ha when counseling openly gay service members. >> chaplains are concerned that when it comes to the bold preaching, teaching, counseling, marrying, burying, sacramental
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duties, that there would be challenges to those things if they were decided to speak against homosexuality. >> reporter: these chaplains fear that if they express what they really believe they might lose their jobs. >> we believe there needs to be a freedom of conscience clause somewhere congress has to wrestle with to make re that chaplains and the troops have freedom of conscience when it comes to proclaiming their own particular faith, and of course they would do that. we would never want that proclamation to be done in a mean-spirited way or hateful way. >> reporter: the underlying cause for conservative chaplains' difficulty with repeal is their belief that homosexuality, like all the other sins in the bible, is a choice. >> just to say they can easily choose to get out of this, i wouldn't say that. i would say it'd probably be a struggle for many. but i know people who have come out of the homosexual community and basically through christ have actually changed their
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choices. >> my parents were devout christians. my values are pretty consistent with theirs. i grew up in a town of 1,000 people, and within my parents' view that didn't fit with being gay, so of course i was straight. you had to be straight to be successful. but that was a lie. it was a lie to myself. i told my mom for the first time whei was 30 or 31 years old and i said, mom, i spent 20, nearly 20 years of 30-year existence trying to fight this everywhere i could, or find some way around it, or finding, okay, maybe if i just find the right girl i won't be gay. but that's just impossible. it's a lie. >> reporter: jonathan hopkins graduated fourth in his class at west point and was deployed to iraq and afghanistan. he was awarded three bronze stars and was promoted unusually early in his career to major. and then, last august, it was all over. although he says many of his
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fellow soldiers knew he was gay and accepted him, a few didn't and reported him to the commander. after a 14-month investigation, he was honorably discharged. hopkins says throughout his military service he was afraid of this happening. >> sometimes you might be scared of getting shot at, but you shouldn't have to be scared of your own fellow service members turning you in for something that you can't change. >> reporter: hopkins is now a graduate student at georgetown university in washington, d.c. and a spokesman for outserve, an organization representing active-duty gays in the military. he says he is optimistic about the repeal and its future. >> will repeal go through? yes. and once that happens and nothing substantive goes wrong, then it'll be a done deal. >> reporter: so the war is won, in effect? >> it's not a war. it's not a war. >> reporter: what is it? >> it's just people trying to
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serve their country. it's just people trying to be treated as people, as upstanding americans. it's the most american of things there is. >> reporter: under don't ask don't tell, 13,000 gay and lesbian members of the military were dismissed. the military plans to finish training for the repeal this summer. after that, if the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff certify that the military is ready for this change, 60 days later the repeal becomes official. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm betty rollin in quantico, virginia. >> the answer to that question about whether marines can ask not to share a room with another marine just because they say he's gay is no. in other news, amid growing criticism from congress, president obama defended his
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decision to intervene in libya. in a report released wednesday, the white house argued the president did not need congressional approval, under the 1973 war powers resolution, because the fighting was not sustained and ground troops had not been deployed. the report came in response to a congressional demand for more clarification of the president's decision. separately, ten lawmakers filed a lawsuit calling for an immediate end to the military action. in syria, the government crackdown intensified this week, as troops targeted protesters in the north of the country. refugees continued to flee to neighboring turkey where the red crescent has built temporary camps. more than 8,500 people have crossed the border since the violence began. human rights groups estimate that 1,400 have been killed. 10,000 are believed to have been detained by the government.
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violence also escalated in a border region between northern and southern sudan. the fighting occurred in an area in the north where most of the population remains loyal to the south. the united nations said northern troops were attacking ethnic minorities, many of whom are christian. archbishop of canterbury rowan williams and president obama both urged an end to the violence. south sudan is poised to become an independent nation next month. on capitol hill, republican congressman peter king convened a second hearing on muslim extremism in the united states. the topic was islamic radicalization in prisons. while one witness testified that this is a growing problem, especially among muslim converts, another reported that the risk of terrorism originating from muslim prisoners is small. several islamic groups criticized the hearing, saying it is unfair to investigate a
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group of americans solely because of their religion. the nation's roman catholic bishops gathered in seattle this week for their annual spring meeting. a key part of the agenda was reviewing sex abuse prevention policies they adopted in 2002. the bishops passed minor revisions, but said overall, the guidelines have "served the church well." still, there are lingering questions about compliance and accountability. joining me now is kim lawton, managing editor of this program. kim, are the bishops really following those 2002 guidelines? >> reporter: well, they say the majority of bishops are following the guidelines, but there are a couple who are not, and that has lead to some pretty high-profile scandals. one in philadelphia, another one most recently that, last couple weeks in missouri, where the local bishop had to apologize for a priest that was arrested child pnography charges.
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>> and whether a bishop has to follow those 2002 guidelines is up to the bishop. there's no way that the other bishops can make him do that, right? >> reporter: well, they are nonbinding, and the bishops say that they don't have the authority to discipline or impose penalties, that only the pope can discipline a bishop. so therefore they say this has to be part of the "fraternal correction," and it is sort of voluntary. >> the southern baptists, southern baptist convention, also gathered this week in phoenix and took steps to make their denomination more diverse, more ethnic diñersity. it elected an african american from new orleans as a first vice-president, on track to become perhaps the president of the southern baptist convention in a year. >> reporter: perhaps. >> perhaps. so there's something going on there. >> reporter: well, they are trying to reach out, i think.
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there has been some apologies for racism in the past. but they are trying to reach out as well. there was some concern that they have been declining in baptisms and even a slight decline in membership. they're still the largest protestant denomination, of course. >> 16 million, is it? >> reporter: 16 million. >> i was thinking about this libya thing and the congress putting pressure on the president. there's a relationship, isn't there, to a religious tradition? >> reporter: well, the political debate is whether or not the president has the authority to authorize and continue the military effort in libya without congressional authorization, and the just war tradition also says that in order for military action to be just it has to have the sanction of the proper authorities, and so there is that moral connection that the political debate is also sort of tied to, and there's been another debate in the religious community i've been watching as well. i'm seeing increasing numbers of religious conservatives raising concerns about the libya action.
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many of them had been supportive in other military efforts, but on this one raising concerns on moral issues, economic moral issues, raising questions about whether or not it's moral to spend that much money, over $700 million, on this effort. >> kim, many thanks. we have a story today from lucky severson about a tibetan buddhist lama who is building a buddhist park on land in montana that is sacred to american indians. you might think such a development would produce fierce opposition from the indians, but that's not what happened. the buddhists respected the indians' beliefs, and both groups found not only sacred but common ground. >> reporter: it has been described as a piece of heaven on earth, tucked in the foothills of the glacier topped mission mountains in northwestern montana, a place where cows and farmers manicure the green grass. it is not a place you would
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expect to see a 24 foot-tall buddhist statue of yum chenmo, the great mother of wisdom and compassion, certainly not in a land that has been sacred to native americans for centuries. >> this is where we live. this is where we were born and where the bones of our ancestors resi, so this is our home. >> reporter: steve lozar is a council leader for the salish tribe. julie cajune heads the center for american indian policy at the salish kootenai college. >> the land around us, you know, is part of our creation story. the geography, the place names go back to our creation stories when coyote and fox went through this area and got this place ready for human beings. >> reporter: one of those human beings turned out to be tulku sang-ngag rinpoche, the highly respected tibetan lama who says he saw this exact place in a dream when he was 8 years old in tibet.
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>> and he says when he came here to this very site little bit that site also he says there was such an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, and it was as if he had seen it before, as if he had really known this place, and he talked to his acquaintance about it, and of course they convinced him that he had never been here before. then he realized that this was the exact visualization that he had of america when he was a child. >> reporter: so this is where rinpoche supporters bought a 60-acre sheep ranch. it's inside the confederated salish-kootenai-ponderai reservation. because of a unusual 100-year-old federal law, non-natives can acquire land within the reservation. guided by his vision, the rinpoche determined that this was where he should build a garden of 1,000 buddhas to promote world peace. workers have been busy casting buddhas for months, but it's a slow process, and each buddha must be perfect before it's blessed. >> this is the spine of the
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statue which has been cast. all these are scrolls which contain sacred tibetan power syllables or mantras all with healing prayer, all that goes right in the cast. >> reporter: sitting in this old barn are hundreds of buddhas waiting to make their grand entrance. the site is still under construction, but when it's completed it will resemble the shape of a dharma wheel, which symbolizes the basic teachings of buddha. at the center of the eight spokes is the statue of the great mother packed inside with sacred texts. but before the rinpoche did anything, he wanted to make sure the garden of buddhas was acceptable to the tribes. >> and so he extended his hand to the tribal elders to come and bless the land. >> reporter: dan decker is the lead attorney for the salish tribe. >> and they didn't come to the reservation saying you have to think like we do, which has been our history. our history has been that newcomers come in, want us to
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welcome them, and then immediately tell us how we need to think. that's not the experience here. the experience is "share with us." >> i actually was so excited i yelled out in the tribal council meeting, i think it's a spectacular opportunity for cross-cultural associations that are peace-based, that are based in the holiness of this land. i can't think of better possibility for neighbors. >> reporter: it turns out that tibetan buddhists and native americans have quite a lot in common. >> he gets a sense that, you know, there are similarities in our experience as oppressed people. he understands that once these particular areas were numerous with the natives, and their numbers have dwindled so much so that now they're in the minority, a similar situation we may be facing in tibet also. >> in tibet, the rinpoche was revered as the sixth incarnation of one of the great buddhist
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teachers. he was imprisoned for nine hard years, and he says he was tortured. his prominence did not sit well with the chinese. >> that's what got him into trouble, because he says, from the chinese perspective, number one they look upon religion as poison, something that is totally undesirable, and so if you were a religious person it's almost the same as if you were like a drug peddler or somebody who's peddling something really terrible. >> another thing that we share with the dali lama and the tibetan people is nonviolent resistance, and if you knew the history of our people, we have really been engaged in nonviolent resistance for hundreds of years. we're still engaged in nonviolent resistance. >> reporter: they also discovered a shared belief, that all natural things, the earth, trees, animals, have spirits dwelling within them. >> in the tibetan tradition, suppose you were embarking on a journey, and you saw an eagle
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overhead. you would celebrate, and you would look upon it as a good omen, that success is on the way, and he was amazed that the native indians have such a similar belief. >> reporter: now they share another tradition, an annual peace festival at a time when peace seems almost unattainable. originally the rinpoche planned to put a statue of buddha at the center of the wheel, but after the terrorist attacks of september 11, he decided instead to build a statue of the great mother with guns and swords buried underneath, symbolizing the victory of peace over violence. >> he sensed that 9/11 may have planted a seed of conflict, enmity, hatred, and according to the scriptures, and according to his religious training, the great mother has that unique blessing to bring about peace,
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to reduce conflict. >> reporter: and so now they dine together and share a dream that the buddha garden will one day contribute to peace. >> there's that old saying that says never underestimate what a single act of integrity can accomplish, and i really believe that that is what rinpoche has done here. something very good is going to come from it. >> reporter: the rinpoche says the garden of 1,000 buddhas will be ready for visitors by 2014 and that the dalai lama has agreed to personally consecrate it. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm lucky severson in arlee, montana. finally, belief and practice. recently, jews celebrated the festival of shavuot, honoring god's gift of the torah. some jews stay up all night on shavuot to study the torah.
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it's also a harvest festival, with special food and everyone attempting to be happy. we visited the sixth and i historic synagogue in washington, d.c. and talked with rabbi shira stutman. >> the shavuot holiday is actually one of the more important holidays in the jewish tradition. and it basically has two reasons for being the original reason comes out of the israelite people bei an agricultural pple a few thousand yea ago in the land that we now call israel. the israelites would bring the bikkurim -- the first fruits, the first offerings -- of their harvest up to the temple as an offering to god, as a way of saying thank you and in hopes of a good harvest. after the temple was destroyed in about 70ce, the rabbis needed to enlarge the understanding of shavuot because we no longer had a temple to which people could bring their offerings. so they brought forward this understanding of shavuot as being the anniversary of
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revelation the anniversary of the moment that god gave the torah, our bible, or part of th2 hebrew bible, to the israelite people on mount sinai, basically turning them from this rag tag group of slaves who had just weeks ago come out of egypt into a people complete with its own set of texts and ways of being in the world. >> shavuot, actually probably more than any other holiday on the jewish calendar, is very difficult for american jews in the 21st century to wrap their hands around. and one of the reasons is because there are not a lot of the same home-based rituals that we have for instance with the passover seder or lighting the hanukah menorah. you are seeing more and more people trying to engage jewish people and jewish families in the shavuot holiday in unusual ways. and that is what 6th and i is doing tonight. people using traditional jewish texts to have contemporary
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conversations. what, how does my life have meaning? what are the ten jewish commandments of sports? how do we take this tradition that has been going on for thousands of years and make it relevant to us today? it is traditional to read the book of ruth, because it is a book about the barley harvest. it's also about what happens in a society where there are haves and have-nots, and how we can act as people who have more, or people who have less, and engage each other to make sure that there's more equity and social justice in the world. some of the other traditions you're going to see here tonight are the making of cheesecake and challah because on shavuot the understanding is that we're supposed to eatataiaiy foods because on the day that the israelites received the torah they also ate dairy foods. there are not a lot of laws that are specific to shavuot. but one of the laws that's specific to shavuot is the
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"vehayita ach sameach" -- that you should be really, really, really happy. and on the shavuot holiday it is a time of rejoicing -- rejoicing in the harvest, rejoicing in this gift of torah that god has given us, and rejoicing in the ability to learn, to learn from torah in each and every generation. >> tikkun leyl shavuot -- that's what you're seeing us do here tonight - stay up all night and study jewish texts. >> that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on facebook and twitter, find us on youtube, and watch us anytime, anywhere on smart phones and iphones. there's also much more on our web site, including more of our interview with rabbi shira stutman on the meaning of shavuot. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.orgs we leave you, scenes from india of a recent hindu festival honoring
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the ganges river. major funding for "religion & ethics newsweekly" is provided by the lily endowment, an indianapolis-based private family foundation dedicated to its founders' interest in religion, community development, and education. additional funding by mutual of america, designed and customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company and by the corporation for public broadcasting.
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